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0155 | The Old Devils – Kingsley Amis

Context: stopped at the Flowerpot Hotel in Aston just south of the Thames and read this in front of their amazing fire on a 10 mile walk recently.

Who names their child Kingsley? I mean, honestly, who does? It sounds like the name you’d give a Basset Hound. Anyway, name apart, this was a terrible novel. It was just irretrievably boring.

It centres around the lives of a group of friends and acquaintances in their retirement and is based in Wales. Throughout the whole book, alcohol plays a central role. These people drink it like, no, in preference to, water.

Their lives are really, really sterile. They have dashed hopes that they cosset but never verbalise, they spend all their lives going to parties they don’t enjoy, engaging in trivial or banal conversation, going through routines without ever thinking of why and always the endless flow of fluid.

Mostly, they’re trapped by their fear of each other, of not being accepted by the group, as if this social circle is all there is to life. They have secret affairs with each other which none of them have the balls to even acknowledge to themselves half the time. It made me realise that, potentially, this is what comes of many people who live in the same social sphere for decades of their lives.

If Amis had written it as an intentional social commentary on this sad phenomenon, the novel would be a classic. But it has the most heinous take on it of all: it’s cynical. There’s no real compassion or understanding of what gets people into such a state. And no exploration of the potential that each one of us has of a life that is exuberantly reach and meaningful. Perhaps he didn’t know any better, hence the cynicism.

For me, the novel’s inability to take the issue of the moribund life seriously robbed it of its potential power. What’s left is a boring read. Tedious would better describe it. How on earth this won the Booker is beyond me. 1986 must have been a tragically uninspired year.

‘If you want my opinion,’ said Gwen Cellan-Davies, ‘the old boy’s a terrifically distinguished citizen of Wales.’


Women have an awful way of feeling things there’s no point in them feeling

how small a part people played in each others’ lives and how little they knew about them, even if they saw them every day

The poem, his poem, was going to be the best tribute he could pay to the only woman who had ever cried for him.

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